A few days after finding out I was pregnant, I was putting on my favorite workout top to head to the gym when I did a double take in the mirror. How the heck did I have a baby bump already? I was literally about 15 minutes pregnant. Isn't the baby, at that point, only the size of a poppyseed? So, what's the deal... is bloating an early pregnancy sign? Or do some women really start showing that early?
It turns out, those poppyseed-sized or blueberry-sized babies aren't the ones responsible for your distended abdomen. In fact, as birth doula Tae Richmond-Moll explains to Romper, many of the earliest pregnancy signs mimic things women experience monthly. "Bloating is a common sign of early pregnancy, just as it is often a symptom of menstrual periods." She cites Genevieve Howland, author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth to confirm this: "Implantation of the egg on the uterine wall can create the very same premenstrual symptoms but without your true period ever arriving."
Additionally, the massive hormonal changes going on inside our bodies cause our bellies to bloat. Specifically, we can thank our increasing progesterone levels for this lovely development. "Progesterone (one of those pregnancy hormones) is relaxing smooth muscle tissue all over your body, including in your gastrointestinal tract," explained The Bump. "This makes your gut work slower, giving your body more time to snatch up nutrients from your food and take them to baby — and that translates into gas for you." With this slowed digestion comes bloating, gas, and often even some cramping. That said... I still lovingly rubbed and cradled my "baby belly" every chance I got. There was a tiny little baby somewhere in there after all – even if the "bump" was more built-up gas than anything else!
If you're feeling super uncomfortable with the bloat (and let's be real, it's not like anyone feels comfortable with it), there are a few things you can do to help your tum relax a bit. In fact, many of the tips and tricks you use to beat the bloat pre-pregnancy can help you now, too. First, drink plenty of water to keep things moving. "Water is your best bet. Aim for eight to 10 8-ounce glasses every day, but other fluids count too," advised Healthline. I'm a firm believer that they're virtually no health woe water can't help, and it certainly helped with my own pregnancy bloat.
Second, try eating smaller meals throughout the day rather than eating three big meals, suggested BabyCenter. Smaller meals will be easier on your system, reducing the risk of gas, bloating, and heartburn. Plus, as any pregnant woman knows, an empty stomach is a recipe for nausea, so small meals can help with that, too.
Third, and this one is the hardest for me, slow down. When you eat a meal at warp speed, you're going to end up taking in a side of air with your food. "The air will end up settling into your stomach in the form of painful gas bubbles (no pain to your baby, just you) and bloating," wrote What To Expect. Give yourself plenty of time to eat your meals, and focus on eating slowly and calmly. Yes, even if you're ravenous.
Finally, get moving. I know that exercise may be the least appealing activity when you're dealing with some unpleasant early pregnancy symptoms, but it can help alleviate some of these side effects. "Do gentle exercise, such as walking or swimming, which helps keep the digestive system moving," advised WebMD. You may not love the idea of exercising before you do it, but you'll hopefully feel much better once you're finished. Plus, your growing baby appreciates it!
At the end of the day, however, the best thing you can do is to be gentle on yourself and listen to your body. "If you find that you also have the accompanying cramping and backache that often joins this hormone-induced bloating, try a warm rice pack or heating pad on your abdomen or low back, and make sure to rest through this temporary period of discomfort," Richmond-Moll tells Romper. "Listen to what your body needs, especially in those early days of pregnancy when implantation is occurring, and later, as you're able, you can incorporate more walks and gentle exercise which will reduce swelling in the long run, and soon enough you'll be ready to return to the level of activity that is best suited for your lifestyle."
Bloating is never very comfortable, and it can certainly make hiding early pregnancy feel nearly impossible. However, try to remember that your body is doing something pretty magical, and one day (in approximately nine months!) that belly bloat will all be worth it. In the mean time, drink your water, break out those maternity clothes, and try to relax. Congratulations, mama!
Tae Richmond-Moll, doula
Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version.